What a fun time I had at the 2013 Ray Browne conference on Popular Culture last weekend. Here’s what I saw:
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Session 1: Social Media and (Self) Presentation.
Panel Moderator: Myc Wiatrowski (Bowling Green State University)
Rebecca Butorac (Indiana University): Social Media Caught Socially Unaware: Parody, Performance and Reflexivity in the “First World Problems Anthem” – a smart analysis of the rhetoric used by ads asking for help. Ms. Butorac compared the First World Problems Anthem with the hoary old Sally Struthers CCF ads. She rightly pointed out the dangers of fetishizing suffering to raise money. A key question to explore in future — did the more ethical method work better to raise money? If not, which is better, to exploit and raise money for the cause or to be straightforward and less effective at fundraising?
Emily Davis (Bowling Green State University): The Eating disorders of Instagram – Ms. Davis presented a very compelling exploration of the secret pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia groups on Instagram, groups that use photos and comments to support one another in maintaining the dangerous eating habits. She highlighted two really interesting observations – first, the private, personal, portable nature of Instagram as phone app makes it an enabler, a tool that makes it easier to hide these addictions. Second, recovering sufferers of these diseases maintain connections to the community, a stunning idea to my mind. I can’t imagine an alcoholic who hangs out in a bar while trying to recover.
Session 7: Commodities and Auras in a Technologic Age
Panel Moderator: Dr. Jeremy Wallach (Bowling Green State University)
Tim Jones (Bowling Green State University): “Wooden Idols and Aviator Shades”: Thingness and Technology in the Comics and Books of Chris Ware – Jones’ paper was destined to be a favorite as I’m such a big Chris Ware fan. He compared the notion of success and meaning in Ware’s two books, the “Red” book, which is built around an idea of failure, and Building Stories, which seems to be constructed around an idea of one’s own success.
Jacob Brown (Bowling Green State University): Aura in the Information Age: Warehouse 13, Geekomancy, and Benjamin – Brown gave a vigorous talk exploring the magic system in the novel Geekomancy and its attendant re-evaluation of the Benjaminian notion of aura. The suggestion, here, is that “nerdstalgia” provides a different kind of motive for understanding how we invest emotional capital in things.
3:30 Keynote Address 1
Dr. Brendan Riley (Columbia College, Chicago): “You Need a System to Make it Work: Detectives, Memory, and the Age of Electracy” – A compelling keynote from a brilliant scholar!
Session 10: Marketing, Awareness, and Cults of Personality
Panel Moderator: Debbie Ribiera (Bowling Green State University)
Sean Ahern (University at Buffalo): Il Communication: National Heroes in the Life and Death of Kim Jong-il – I’m afraid I missed much of this paper because I was talking with people after my keynote, but from what I did see, Ahern explored the nature of the propaganda around the leader of North Korea and his public image.
Monica Lott (Kent State University): “A Deliberate Popularity: The Self-Conscious Author in the Works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers” – I’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few of Monica Lott’s papers over the years. She brings a thorough, classic approach to the study of mystery and she didn’t disappoint this time. This paper was about the dissatisfaction Sayers and Christie felt by the constrictions of the genres they wrote for. Christie in particular solved the problem in a number of ways, including putting herself into the books and writing some books under a pseudonym.
Anna Louise Wiegenstein (Bowling Green State University): “Hot, Ready, Legal” The Business of Bieber – Ms. Wiegenstein’s paper made a thorough analysis of the marketing efforts behind Justin Bieber’s public transition from “boy” to “man” in the public eye. This was easily the most enjoyable paper of the conference for the pure performative nature of Ms. Wiegenstein’s work. As one person put it, she delivered the talk with one eyebrow raised sardonically. Most striking, I thought, was that both Bieber and Lindsay Lohan appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone under the title “Hot, Ready, Legal” when they turned eighteen.
6:30 Keynote Address 2
Thomas Malaby (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee): “Domesticating Games” – Malaby presented an excellent discussion of the nature of Game as a kind of social order, and suggested it as a new form on par with Bureaucracy and Ritual, something to be used and explored in that context. I took tons of notes and came away from the talk quite energized. Most key for me was the three part discussion of these social orders, since both Bureaucracy and Ritual have long been part of my vocabulary about the structuring methods for societies under different ages of human communication (Ritual: Orality:: Bureaucracy: Literacy) leading to the question of whether Game presents itself as Electracy’s social order. A thought worth pondering, for sure.
Sunday, 10 February
Session 11: The Digital Frontier: Fans and Trolls
Panel Moderator: Nicki Reamer (Bowling Green State University)
Blake Hallinan (Indiana University): “How are you, I’m fine thanks: … on Tumblr” – Solid discussion of fandom, fan art, and communities on Tumblr. My favorite observation was that men and women tend to engage in fandom differently and that men use their flavor of fandom as a gatekeeping method to dismiss typically-female approaches to fandom. This seems to be changing, though, focusing around the sharing of sacred texts. Hallinan makes a strong connection between the fan art/community and the way that religious communities revere texts and sainted figures.
Laura Guill (Purdue University Calumet): Nerdfighters and the Project for Awesome: Participatory Culture and Affinity Space – Guill’s discussion of the Nerdfighter community provided lots to think about, exploring the value of participatory communities as spaces for action over passive audience activities. She detailed how they’re rhetorically welcoming and fiercely protective of that welcoming attitude. The biggest takeaway from this piece was, for me, a flash of inspiration about MOOCs — might this kind of activity be one of the ways to develop work in a MOOC, using the community enthusiasm for projects? Will ponder.